Royal Mail's random number generator

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Royal Fail and their offshoot, Parcel Farce, appear to be crumbling under their own postage rules and regulations. Keep it simple for the benefit of all concerned, I say.

When Royal Mail brought in their new size and weight rules a few years ago, there were bound to be teething troubles as staff and customers adjusted to the random price increases. But it appears staff still can’t quite get the hang of it, which in my mind means the system is broken.

Take today for example. I wanted to post a book in a jiffy bag to someone else: a fairly routine occurrence, one would like to think.

The miserable clerk asked me to put it on the scales, which I did and she tapped ten or fifteen keypresses on her touch screen, scowling the whole time. Perhaps the software is too complicated, which wouldn’t surprise me. I regarded the colleagues at booths either side of the one I was at — smiling, conversing, jolly — proof if ever it was needed that it’s possible to carve enjoyment out of the role. Sadly this sentiment hadn’t transferred to the Skeksi at my window.

Anyway, next I was asked if my package was important. As opposed to what; me sending rocks to someone?

“It’s important it gets there, yes. But I don’t mind if it takes a few days.” A euphemism for ‘your cheapest service please, but not via Parcel Farce because I want it to actually arrive without some Ned stealing the contents and forwarding the empty envelope.’

“Has it got a letter in it?”

“Why does it make a difference? It’s a package of a particular weight that I’d like delivered.”

“Large letter might be cheaper than a small package or a small parcel.”

Bewildering nomenclature aside, I said no it’s a book. She then wanted to know if the package would fit through the top slot in the size guide to my left. I posted the envelope through easily and it slid right through, plopping back onto the counter.

SkekSo sighed and rolled her eyes. “Give it to me,” she commanded, clearly inconvenienced that she had to prove I hadn’t forced it through to defraud the company. So I wiggled it to her through the metal bin-flap device beneath the (bulletproof?) glass divider whereby she reached under the desk for her own size guide and posted the book through it. Easily.

To the screen she went. Tap tap tap — tap tap — tap tap tap tap — tap — tap. “That’s £2.68 second class, £1.54 first class”.

I blinked. “OK, I’ll send it first class then since it’s cheaper.”

She looked puzzled and regarded the screen. “Oh. Put it back on the scales.”

She fed the parcel back to me, since they don’t appear to have scales on their side of the glass: probably a cost-cutting exercise.

Tap tap — tap tap tap tap — tap tap tap — tap — tap — tap tap — tap. Sigh. Tap tap tap — tap.

Getting up from her station, she crossed to the back of the room for reasons I couldn’t ascertain then stalked back fifteen seconds later.

Tap — tap tap tap — tap tap. Frown. Tap tap tap — tap.

“Right, it’s £2.46 first class and £2.16 second class.”

“If I stay here a bit longer will the price come down any more?”

Perhaps I overstepped the mark a little: she wasn’t impressed and glared at me. I had some Large Letter stamps in my hand already. “You’ll need four of those for second class,” she said. I knew they were worth 58p each. Four times that is £2.32 and I’m buggered if I’m giving the GPO 16p for nothing. “No, can I have a stamp for it please.”

“Let me have the packet.”

Dutifully I gave up the jiffy bag.

Tap — tap tap tap tap — tap tap — tap.

While she was tapping I dug in my pocket for the correct change, sliding it under the glass.

Tap tap tap — tap tap — whiiirr print. Tap tap. Tap.

She stuck the stamp skew-whiff on to the packet, corner peeled up and a section of it not even stuck to the front then said. “It’s a Large Letter so that’s £1.23.”

I took back the cash I’d already given her, recounted the change, paid and beat a hasty retreat, shaking my head.

I’m with stupid

From my various experiences with the nebulous pricing and random application of the rules by staff I do wonder if the senior management and bean counters have not really thought it through. Clearly staff aren’t universally happy and can’t reliably use the computer system to carry out rudimentary tasks, nor can they select appropriate postage rates without consulting complicated charts and guides.

It’s a bit like our illustrious government who think that wasting four billion pounds a year administering the plethora of tax rates, chasing every last penny, and closing loopholes in the system is a good return on investment.

In both cases, I’m pretty confident that simplifying things would enable them to cut more costs and improve efficiency, compared with adding layers and workarounds enabling them to pinch more cash for returning that all-important shareholder value.

Also, their software needs a revamp. How do I know? Because I found a copy that you can try out and see what Royal Mail employees see.

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